The clinic sat on an aging block of tenement housing. The street out front was filled with vendors selling produce and used appliances. Inside, the place looked like it hadn't changed since Chae was born. Old equipment ran off extension cords run haphazardly along white tile walls with dark grout. The clinic's doctor, sitting at the lone computer, said she'd help. She showed Chae the vinyl-covered stirrup table where she was born. The doctor explained that records from back then had been lost, but she tried to search her memory for Chae's birth.

"I think I remember your mother coming in with four girls," the doctor told her. All four of them were very pretty. Chae's sisters had begged their mother: "Let's take the baby." But the doctor was old, and it may have been another family.

"Thirty-three years ago?" Greg asked from behind the video camera.

The doctor shook her head. She couldn't be sure. And with that, it appeared they had reached another dead end.

In the two years since that meeting, Chae and Greg would test their detective skills and their willingness to trust strangers. They would find themselves on the doorstep of a random home in Texas. They'd creep down a dark alley in Seoul. And to end it all, they'd take an unexpected houseguest into their Miami Shores home.

Their mission began thanks to a charity, Global Overseas Adoptees' Link (GOA'L), which funded Chae's first trip to Korea. It's part of a network of social service organizations and government-run programs in countries that used to send thousands of adoptees a year to America. The groups work to reunite adoptees with their birth families by culling through old documents and cold-calling relatives. Korea alone has sent 200,000 adoptees overseas since the Korean War. Now, those adopted children have grown and are returning home in search of their families.

Chae was one of 23 Korean adoptees on the GOA'L trip. They came from the United States, Australia, and elsewhere. Not all of them had luck finding their families. It's not uncommon for adoptees who return to Korea to be told by their families that they should never return. Now that Chae had clues about her family, she knew she had to keep digging, even if it ended with the same kind of shame.


Moon Ja Park was volunteering at church when her phone rang again. She had just finished making a soup of soybean paste and baby cabbage, part of a meal that's traditional after Friday-night services in Korea. The call came from the same strange number that had been trying her all week. She had a break before serving the soup, so she decided to pick it up.

Orphanage director Choon Hee Kim was on the other end. She told Moon Ja that her daughter was in Korea looking for her. But Moon Ja wasn't ready to say yes to a meeting. Shame and guilt gripped her. "Let me think about it and get back to you." Afraid to tell anyone her secret, she spent the night quietly serving soup.

Moon Ja had worried about her adopted daughter for years. Now she was here, wanting to meet.

On Monday, she called back and told the orphanage director, as if admitting to a crime: "Yes, I'm the person you're looking for." By then, Chae and Greg had flown back to Florida. Moon Ja got Chae's contact information, but still, she wasn't ready. Moon Ja decided to tell her daughters first.

Ten days after Chae and Greg returned to South Florida, Chae got an email with the subject line: "Your sister in Korea." It began: "Dear my lovely sister Yoon Jung. I can speak English a little." Eun Jung was sure they were sisters. Chae, it turns out, had been born Yoon Jung Chae, meaning the first name given to her by her adoptive mother was actually the family's surname. "You are a certain my sister. You look like us. Very sorry and sad but you look like growed very well you are very pretty and bright."

Chae began a daily email exchange with Eun Jung. There was some uncertainty in those early emails, and not just because of the rough translations. Everyone agreed a DNA test was a good idea, even though Chae looks like a twin to one of her sisters, so much so that Greg had to look twice at a photo they were emailed to make sure it wasn't Chae. The test confirmed it, and the sisters told Chae about how she could meet her mother.

Moon Ja worked as a nanny and was planning to visit Houston to help a friend who had just given birth. In Korea, new moms are expected to spend weeks in bed afterward and for two months eat nothing but seaweed soup, a recipe Moon Ja knew well.

Chae and Greg decided to fly to Houston to meet her mother. They didn't speak Korean, and Moon Ja spoke little English, so the couple reached out to a Korean-American organization in Houston to help. The group promised a translator and a videographer who could record the meeting.

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7 comments
Jmagg23
Jmagg23

Great job Eric! Reading it brought tears to my eyes! An amazing story involving some amazing people.

Momolovely2000
Momolovely2000

This is the most sad, happy, determined, funny, loving story I have ever heard. Thank god that I am a part of this family:)....

Sister of Greg

tiggyfooo
tiggyfooo

I never really even thought about it like that before dude. Makes sense.www.Total-Privacy dot US

David Gross
David Gross

 There arew many adoptees whose records are sealed and therefore are unable to find out who they really are and who their bith parents were. My sister Kara's records are permanently sealed she has asked for them to be unsealed but the state of Indiana has refused because she does not have "a pressing medical need for them" It is a cruel thing when you are denied being able to find out where you came from and who your bith parents are.

David Gross
David Gross

this is an extremely wonderful story which bring tears to my eyes, I know that my own step sister Kara would love for this to be able to happen for her as she is adopted she is african american and I love her deeply and I know she loves me too it just goes to show that race means nothing when you love the other.

Omniogignes
Omniogignes

It is innate in humans to search for their own personal special life story. It is always marvelous when others have the courage to share their story with others.

FQS9000
FQS9000

Life is hard and if you are very, very lucky, you find someone who loves you, in spite of all your flaws.

 
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